In Collingswood, ad execs rated Super Bowl commercials.

http://inq.philly.com/content/inquirer/2001/01/29/city/ADBOWL29.htm

By Brendan January and Elisa Ung INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS

COLLINGSWOOD – Around the country, Super Bowl partyers cheered. They groaned. They clutched footballs, crammed down wings, and guzzled beer.

And in a cavernous Collingswood theater, they jotted notes.

This Super Bowl party had nothing to do with football, for these partyers were from the advertising firms Green Eggz no ham Inc., of Collingswood, and NDW, of Horsham – and they had priorities.

Forget the football game. In the minds of ad execs, the Super Bowl is not about the Ravens vs. the Giants – it is a birthplace for pop culture and a showcase for the $250 billion advertising industry. Last night, the two firms were gathering to rank the commercials.

Thus, the mini-egg rolls at their party held more interest than the Giants’ first pass, and the Budweiser ad of a guy spurting beer all over his girlfriend was more riveting than the first touchdown.

“The classic Super Bowl commercial,” crowed Tommy Dispenza from Green Eggz. “You get a big laugh out of it.”

Amid bites of sliced turkey and pigs in blankets, the ad agency representatives talked about the night’s real drama.

A successful Super Bowl ad can launch a business, they said excitedly. A failure can plunge a company fatally into debt.

Now that, they said, is pressure.

Watching pop culture unfold – the phrases, songs, attitudes that might be repeated in countless conversations in cafeterias and locker rooms, over water coolers and cups of coffee: That’s excitement.

It makes the Super Bowl look like, well, a mere game.

Which it was at yesterday’s shindig, dubbed the “Arbitron Bowl.”

These people ran to the rest room during plays so they didn’t miss the next commercial.

Watching the action projected on a wall, the representatives gave rankings ranging from “steak and eggs” – the big winners – to “rotten eggs,” for the losers.

Steak and eggs and raves went to everything Bud (“What are you doing?” “What are you doing?”) and to the woeful sock puppet, last year’s star in a pets.com commercial, lampooned last night in an E-Trade ad making fun of pets.com’s downfall. “Invest wisely,” advises the commercial.

The ad was, the execs said, indicative of the dot-com shakeout – many of the dot-coms that paid millions to advertise in last year’s Super Bowl are now out of business or on cheaper spending plans.

“With all the dot-com fiascoes,” said David Bregler of Green Eggz, “E-Trade has survived and has done well. And they patted themselves on the back there.”

The rotten eggs last night? Anything serious – it’s the Super Bowl, after all! Accenture’s virtual-reality surgery ad drew boos.

“Yuck,” sneered Arion Rochman of Green Eggz.

“They’re missing the mark,” agreed coworker Gina Lydic.

CBS, host channel of the Super Bowl, sold 60 30-second time slots for about $2.3 million each, according to the Wall Street Journal, to advertisers desperate to hold on to the attention of an estimated 80 million viewers long after the game ends.

While football players are locked in competition on the field, those in advertising engage in another contest – one of wits – to show the industry who’s best. There was Bob Dole, crediting Pepsi with everything a certain sex-enhancement drug did for him. There were ballet-dancing football players, multiplying bunnies, even the running of the squirrels in Spain.

During the Super Bowl, “an entire industry is watching each other,” Rochman said.

“Everyone in advertising wants to reach that level,” added Mike Santaspirt, creative director at Green Eggz no ham.

For the ad execs gathered in Collingswood, treasured Super Bowl memories are not graceful catches or devastating hits.

They joyfully remember a trio of frogs croaking “Bud”-“weis”-“er.”

They describe in awed tones the grainy 1984 Macintosh commercial in which a woman hurls a hammer at a giant television screen of Big Brother. The spot revolutionized the ad industry and catapulted the Super Bowl into an advertising mecca, Santaspirt said.

And then there’s Anheuser-Busch. “Who doesn’t remember the Bud Bowl?” said Dennis Levy, vice president of marketing at Green Eggz. “It’s often more exciting than the real game. They were betting on it in Las Vegas.”

The upshot from last night’s advertisers? A great football game, but a low-risk advertising year, one that was low on techies, low on special effects, big on the normal guy stuff. “It’s just beer and pretzels,” said NDW’s Bob Wolf.

Levy added: “Humor, animals and sex are the three main things that sell products, and we’ve seen mainly humor and animals. There were very few spots with sex appeal. It was very conservative.”

Brendan January’s e-mail address is [email protected]